What is Corporate Volunteering? A breakdown of the benefits and costs

Stéphanie Grawehr February 19, 2021

In this post:

What is corporate volunteering? What are the different types of corporate volunteering? What are the benefits of corporate volunteering to companies? What are the benefits of corporate volunteering to employees? What are the benefits of corporate volunteering to nonprofits and society? What are the costs of corporate volunteering programs to companies? Closing out corporate volunteering

Corporate volunteering is a business initiative that we’re starting to see more and more of every day. While it’s not a legal obligation investing in a corporate volunteering program opens up a world of benefits.

More than 25% of companies now offer some form of corporate volunteering options for employees. Businesses are no longer solely doing business. They’re lifting people and our communities and making our world a better place. Employer-supported volunteering is a large part of that.  

71% of US citizens want socially responsible companies, and a survey of 7,000 respondents from 14 industrialized countries highlighted 78% of people respond favorably to companies with CSR initiatives. People are looking to business leaders to make positive change; in fact, business has the highest global trust level at 61%—compared against NGOs, government, and media. Employee volunteering programs are rapidly emerging to answer the demand.

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The Global Reporting Initiative’s mission is “to enable organizations to be transparent and take responsibility for their impacts, enabled through the world’s most widely used standards for sustainability reporting” and is one of the most widely used frameworks for reporting out there, which can also be linked to the UN SDGs. This article will explore corporate volunteering and the benefits and costs of a successful corporate volunteering program. If you’re looking to set up an employee volunteering program for your business, then you’ve come to the right place. 

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What is corporate volunteering?

Corporate volunteering is a way for businesses to enable their employees to give back and contribute to communities. It’s usually accompanied by volunteering time off (VTO) or other policies that empower employees to work with a larger purpose outside of their world of work. Corporate volunteering is a pillar of a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) and/or employee engagement strategy . 

Corporate volunteering programs came about to build more engaged and valued workforces. At the same time, they answered a demand for businesses to be more globally conscious. With 9/10 employees willing to earn less to do more meaningful work and customers being 4-6x more likely to purchase from purpose-driven companies, corporate volunteering programs rose to form a sturdy ESG pillar for our economies and our planet.

What are the different types of corporate volunteering?

Despite more companies than ever looking to implement corporate volunteering programs, there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. If you’re looking to build out a successful employee volunteering program, you need to find the solution that will work best for your business, mission and employees’ work/lifestyle. 

Team employer-supported volunteering programs are the perfect way for your business to provide a skill, resource, or service to a society or nonprofit. This type of program is usually ‘the more, the merrier’ type of situation. These types of volunteering programs have the power to unite entire companies, as people work together across hierarchies and departments. Especially when many people are apart, it’s a great way to bring teams together.

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If you’re a small workforce, it doesn’t mean you should be more inclined to propose individual volunteering programs. This type of program needs to be considered no matter how little, or large your company is.

CIPD found that out of 1,000 employees volunteering in schools, 80% enhanced their communication skills, 79% said it improved their sense of mission at work, and 68% said they were more motivated at work. These are significant developments for employees across varying management levels and could be precisely what your business needs.

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1. Field volunteering

Field volunteering  is when employees go directly on site in-person, for example, volunteering at a local soup kitchen, or visiting a retirement home. It’s a popular and engaging way for employees to get out of their day-to-day routines, while connecting and contributing to a cause. 

That’s why it’s a great way for you to engage non-desk employees too. Whether you’re a globally-distributed company or you’re in an industry that doesn’t traditionally host a workforce at a desk, there are plenty of field volunteering options you can include to keep your workforce engaged and filled with purpose. 

2. Virtual volunteering

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Online volunteering programs also allow you to unite a full-distributed workforce or non-desk employees. However, virtual volunteering can be that much more inclusive for those that can’t get to a physical place. It can be hard to unite people worldwide, especially when they’re in exceptionally remote locations. Yet, if they’ve got a good internet connection and time, this type of volunteering could be the perfect fit.

3. Skills-based corporate volunteering

This type of volunteering refers to specific in-demand skill sets needed to be a success. When many people think about volunteering, they think about the traditionally labor-orientated tasks or field volunteering. However, particular areas of volunteering require skills that your workforce is in a unique position to deliver. That’s where skills-based volunteering comes in: It’s when a volunteer uses their knowledge and abilities to benefit a worthy cause, often completed virtually in discrete periods of time. For example, mentoring or coaching youth or other beneficiaries to enter the professional world, translating documents or a website, or preparing communications like external newsletters or designing a brochure. It’s a valuable way to develop employees’ skills while helping the community. PwC did precisely that with their skill-based volunteering program, as did Johnson & Johnson.

Corporate volunteering programs bring a structure to the type of volunteering that fits best with your business, its people, and the employee purpose program you’re developing. Your plan should aim to tie preferences together and offer volunteering opportunities that are interesting and attainable for all employees. 

What are the benefits of corporate volunteering to companies?

The truth is, there are so many benefits to a corporate volunteering program it can be hard to pin them down into one article. But, for the sake of building a business case for your employee volunteering strategy, here are some standouts.

1. Employer branding & recruitment

Deloitte found, nearly two-thirds of Gen Y employees prefer employers that let them volunteer skills. Simultaneously, 83% of Gen Z candidates say a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is essential when selecting their next employer.

Your volunteering program can help lift your employer reputation and and competitive hiring position to better appeal to those candidates looking for purpose-driven companies. 

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2. Talent attraction

Employer branding aside, if you’re offering a skills-based volunteering program, it can be an extremely appealing factor for talent on their roadmap to upskilling and reskilling. Plus, 73% of adults said they would not apply to a company whose values do not align with their own. It’s hard to grab the attention of top talent. Yet, if you’re playing your cards right—with this strategy—it can certainly help. 

3. Positive impact

Of course, we cannot forget the genuine positive impact for our planet and its people each and every volunteering program can achieve.

For example, Adidas is “driving innovative sustainable solutions designed to transform our industry and our planet.” Anne Lewis Strategies “strive to increase inclusion, equity, and justice around the world.” Ben & Jerry’s “stand together for refugees, so that all the world’s people have a home, safe home.” 

Little or large, companies across the globe are making positive impacts that resonate with their mission, vision, and employees. 

4. Investor appeal

CEO of Blackrock, Larry Fink, stressed climate change efforts for new investments. While T. Rowe Price said, ESG disclosure was now the number one topic for its engagements with company management. Plus, a Morgan Stanley survey showed 80% of asset owners are integrating ESG into the investment process, up 10% since 2017. There’s no questioning the pressure on—and from—investors for companies to be developing strategies in line with CSR and ESG, like volunteering programs. 

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5. Engaged workforce

People who say they are living their purpose at work have 4x higher engagement. Corporate volunteering programs are most successful when they emerge from your business purpose, and you manage to get everyone on board. Plus, employees who can act pro-socially show increased levels of affective commitment to their organisation. 

Once you’ve convinced your CEO to focus on a best-in-class volunteering program, you’ll see a more engaged, happier, and effective workforce. 

6. Consumer engagement

60% of Millennials and Gen Z customers say they plan to buy from businesses that have taken care of workforces and helped society during the pandemic. Customers are more aware than ever of businesses’ CSR intent, and if they disapprove, they’ll let you know!

What are the benefits of corporate volunteering to employees?

It doesn’t stop at benefits to businesses to introduce a volunteering strategy. There are plenty of benefits for employees, all of which will improve their work and general lifestyle.

Soft skills

Things like public speaking, communication, teamwork, adaptability, problem-solving, work ethic, and time management are all soft skills that volunteering opportunities can help toward.  

Johnson & Johnson implemented a corporate volunteering program that helps their employees “develop new perspectives and stretch their skills”—Emelie Dorlin

Accenture found 76% of volunteers say they developed core work skills. Some of these core skills are developed around “intentional moments of critical reflection and sense making.” When these sorts of skills are learned by your business leaders, they become more responsible and adaptable workers—enabling them to contribute your company’s overall resiliency.

Wellbeing

Employees who say they work with a sense of purpose report 5x higher levels of wellbeing in the workplace. This is due to a similar brain chemical to endorphins which is released when doing a good deed—it’s otherwise known as the helper’s high.

“Employees whose employers implement volunteering programs are more engaged and report higher levels of both autonomy and support from their co-workers and supervisors.”—Frontiers in Psychology.

There’s no arguing that corporate volunteering programs promote positive workplaces and mindsets for employees. In fact, 89% of employees reported increased job satisfaction. 

Mental health

A whopping 99% of employers and 97% of workers agree that businesses are responsible for employee mental health. Connecting employees with mental health awareness organisations or purpose-driven nonprofits can help raise awareness around the topic and improve employee mental health.  

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that adults over 50 volunteering 2 hours a week or more have:

  • Reduced risk of mortality
  • Greater physical activity 
  • Greater psychological outcomes: optimism and a sense of purpose 

Corporate volunteering initiatives also help combat loneliness. Loneliness can affect personal and professional wellbeing, yet it’s one of the biggest problems with remote workforces. Corporate volunteering programs can help combat this and give employees a common ground to connect—outside the workplace. This helps employees feel connected, surrounded and helps tackle loneliness.

Living with purpose

72% of the next generation of workers, students, said a job where they can make an impact is important to their happiness. The benefit you can bring as an employer to helping your employees find their purpose is undeniable.

“Our program has evolved over the last 25 years from a philanthropy program towards a sustainable skills-based model that aims to generate long-term impact for communities. Our employees decide how, when, and where they engage with local or global communities. 

We call it ‘Engage With Responsibility.’ The objectives are to create meaningful, measurable impact for associates, for Novartis and society.”

Estelle Roth, Global Head Engagement and Volunteering at Novartis.
Watch the full webinar here.
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What are the benefits of corporate volunteering to nonprofits and society?

When partnered well, nonprofits can see massive benefits from corporate volunteering programs. 

Firstly, if the nonprofit truly resonates with your business’s mission and employees’ purpose, you’ll have a more engaged and dedicated workforce to see your volunteering program succeed. 77% of nonprofits believe that skilled volunteers can significantly improve their organization’s business practices; it’s just making the match. What’s important to remember here is to partner with the nonprofit and understand their needs.

Secondly, the nonprofit will reach a new audience that’s equally as passionate about their cause as they are. It gives the nonprofit the exposure they otherwise never have had. The same can be said for a societal need; it’s just a case of finding a cause that resonates. 

What are the costs of corporate volunteering programs to companies?

When leadership hears ‘program,’ their mind jumps to resources. How much will it cost? How much time will it take away from your current responsibilities? That’s okay; it’s understandable. 

Of course, building a meaningful and impactful employer-supported volunteering program is not something that will come entirely free. It requires a certain level of financing to organise and manage. It also means you’ll lose hand-on staff hours throughout the year. However, the ROI it can bring to your bottom line financials due to a more engaged, loyal, and purposeful workforce is well worth it. 

Research suggests that companies with good volunteering programs spend roughly $179 per employee per year (regardless of whether an employee is volunteering or not). When we compare this with an average of $1201 per year per employee that undergoes a skills-based training program—corporate volunteering schemes are barely a dent in the budget. For the skills and other benefits they can give back, it’s well worth the investment. 

Quartz at Work found those companies with an active volunteering program have more engaged, productive, and loyal employees. When we compare this with other research, our financial returns start to look a lot better. 

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimates the average cost to replace an employee is around 6-9 months of their salary. So strategies you can create that revolve around retaining talent are well worth the time. 

No matter how much your business is making, when you start applying figures like the above, it’s clear the financial benefits your business can reap against the costs of starting a corporate volunteering program.

Closing out corporate volunteering

Corporate volunteering programs are a “nice to have” strategy and pillar to your larger CSR efforts. However, hopefully, this article has proven that they’re also a “useful to have.” They can benefit your employees, your brand reputation, your bottom-line profits, and our planet. 

If you’re considering implementing a corporate volunteering program, then consider which benefits will appeal most to which stakeholders. There are plenty to choose from; prioritize them accordingly and get that corporate volunteering program on the way!

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